Hacking professional development: one year later

#suedle drawn by the talented Sue Caulfield

#suedle drawn by the talented Sue Caulfield

One year ago today, I launched a seemingly simple idea based on a single tweet:

If I had the $ and time, I’d go on an #sachat road trip. So many friends I’ve yet to meet in person.

— Tim St. John (@timstjohn) January 14, 2014

What has resulted since has been the most important, helpful, and meaningful year of professional development in learning in my entire career. The best part: it was completely FREE.

It seems like our community has been talking a lot lately again about professional associations, conference rates and the lack of accessibility that comes with ridiculously high fees. Here’s the thing – professional involvement and development is about the people, not an acronym, program, or conference in a fancy hotel with high profile keynote speakers. We learn from each other in presentations. We build our network through connecting with others online or in person. How is a Google Hangout any different? I have learned over the last year it is not much different, but a whole lot better.

When I started this project, I thought I would maybe chat with a few people. I did very little reaching out. I put this out there for the world and was at the mercy of people interested in taking the chance on an agenda free chat with a person they maybe had met before, never met but seen on Twitter, or never heard of at all. I was overwhelmed by the response.

What followed was 23 one hour chats, either through Google Hangout or in person (photos below). Many of the colleagues I met have become friends. Many of us still chat regularly. Folks I chatted with ranged from senior level to an undergraduate interested in the field and covered all functional areas. My trip took me from Canada to Texas, from New Jersey to Colorado and everywhere in between. We had no agenda and the topics ranged from the value of a PhD, how we recruit in our field, innovative educators, the trouble with how we overvalue social media in our field, running, family, starting a new job, and so much more. I am not exaggerating when I say that no single project has impacted my network, learning, and sense of belonging to my profession as this has.

Amma visits Clark!

Amma visits Clark!

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Hanging out with Courtney and Amma in Boston!

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Dinner with my #sabestie and queen of #sabullshit, Mallory Bower

It also led to some pretty amazing opportunities to be a guest on a podcast, contribute to an online course, and write for a prominent student affairs blog (the blog post I am most proud of).

What I have learned from this experience, above all else, is that we are a field of good people with incredible ideas that will are changing the course of education and the lives/experiences of the students we touch. You can only see this partially through Twitter or a conference meetup. These hour chats were everything that is great in a presentation, tweetup, informal coffee chat, and roundtable all in one.

My goals for year 2 of this continuous journey are as follows:

  • Pay it forward: help others see the potential in taking a hold of their own professional development and taking the steps to do so
  • Write more about the amazing people I have met and the profound impact they have had on my learning
  • Do more outreach and ask some people to connect
  • Bigger and better: take this to the next level by hanging out with an entire department, grad class, or even feed into a conference.

Who’s up for joining me on year two of my journey?

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How to be innovative (sort of) in Student Affairs

I have been reading and thinking a lot about innovation lately.  The culture at my institution is fast-paced, forward thinking and innovative, especially in the last few years.  In general, the landscape in Higher Education is changing and we as Student Affairs professionals need to adapt our thinking, programs and services.  Something I have noticed though, is that for some, innovation and new thinking can be difficult.  Often, we get stuck in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.  For many of these folks, they have an all or nothing approach to innovation. The notion is that you have to come up with the next best thing, this big new idea, and it has to be grand.  It is when you realize that is not entirely true, that you can begin to think differently and in a way that fosters innovation.  I am writing this post to share some tips that have worked for me to think about innovation in a smaller, more manageable scale.

1.  Assess first

Trying to innovate without knowing what the needs or problems are is like running a marathon without shoes, and perhaps without any training.  It can be done, but it makes your task much more difficult.  I am a firm believer that you can’t find a solution until you have identified the problem and its scope.

2. Think thrift shopping

Sometimes you don’t need to spend all kinds of money to get a pair of jeans when you can get something just as good from a thrift shop.  The same  thought process can be used while seeking new ideas.  Some of my most “innovative” ideas for my work and my institution have come from colleagues or by researching what is done at other institution.  Though it is not a new idea or innovative in the truest form, it is new and innovative for my work and my institution.  You will be amazed by how many incredible things your colleagues are doing and we are fortunate to be in a field that is so willing to share and help.  Utilize your resources and watch the new ideas flow.

3. Think small

The point, for me, of innovation is not necessarily thinking large scale.  It could be the smallest tweak to a program, a minor change to a service that could make the biggest change or impact.  By thinking small, you open yourself up to more ideas that are practical, and oftentimes more cost effective

4. Brainstorming; groups or individuals? BOTH!

It is no secret that Higher Education loves committees!  We have meetings about meetings.  While thinking and brainstorming in large groups can be helpful, it is not the only way.  Sometimes group think can occur and the politics involved with any organization can stifle individual creativity.  With my students, I encourage them to brainstorm on their own, once the problem has been identified, then come together as a group.  Instead of a rattling off of undeveloped ideas, the group gets to hear solid, well-thought out ideas and evaluate them instead of starting from scratch.  This saves a lot of time, a valuable resource for all of us.

5. Be flexible and adaptable

This final step is, perhaps, the most important.  Sometimes an idea can seem so profound and everyone is sure it will work; and then it all blows up!  There are outside factors that effect whether or not a new idea will work.  These are often out of our control.  It is important to not let the failure of one new idea deter you from trying others.  It is important to learn from your mistakes and move forward with the new knowledge.

What innovative ideas have you implemented in your work lately?  What was that process like?